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Friday, December 21, 2018

And now, a brief historic interlude. . . .

Well, over the last couple of days I've been dealing with having a wisdom tooth removed (not a recreational activity I recommend, btw), so that's rather put the squelch on boat work while I get to play the sympathy card, whining piteously, and, in general, getting out of things I normally have to do.

Still and all, not worth it.  Get your teeth cleaned, kids.

At any rate, I've spent a bit of the time surfing mindlessly and came to realize just how many new viewers this blog has acquired over the last year.  Welcome, guys, and thanks for stopping by.  I also realized that, unless you've been riding with us on this trip for a bit you might not know who we are, so I thought I'd take a moment of my recovery time to tip you off.  Let's see. . . .

We're Don and Gail Elwell (and, of course, first cat Magellan).  We're long time artists and teachers, both retired college professors, and active experimenters, creators, re-enactors, larpers, and geeks in general.  Gail, my companion for (ulp) near 35 years, is a teacher, sculptor, amazing chef, and collage artist.  You can find her work on Facebook and at her blog at life, art, water. Her most recent works are some rather amazing collages, beautifully painterly works, that I highly recommend you check out.

Emergence, collage, Gail Elwell 2018
For myself, I've been a writer and theatre geek for most of my life, have started a couple of very successful theatre companies, including the Greylight theatre of Illinois and the Grindlebone Arts Collective in Baltimore, taught at a number of institutions, and in general made a public spectacle of myself.  In recent years, I've mostly been a writer and editor, publishing a number of novels and play anthologies through Wild Shore Press (created as Grindlebone's in-house publisher).

Rather proud of this one.  Available hardcopy or Ebook here.
At any rate, as part of the work with Grindlebone Arts, we set up a thing called the "Center for Bypassed Technologies" on the Grindlebone site.  It was the confluence of our working as historic re-enactors, our love of history (and science fiction, futurism, and general oddness), and my own geeky fascination with the technologies that were bypassed because of cheap energy.  This led directly to the creation of this blog, and of the original shantyboat Floating Empire. If you're interested in the rational that started this whole thing, give a click here and see how and why we started this voyage all the way back in '14.

In the intervening years, we've built ( or re-built) three vessels, Experimented with solar power systems, electric drives, paddlewheels, composting toilets, new construction materials, brewing, food preservation, wood gasification, kerosene stoves, vertical gardening, and a host of other things, all while continuing to write and do artwork and, in general, get ourselves in trouble at every opportunity.

2019 should be a really interesting year for us.  We'll (hopefully, FINALLY) get the drive working well enough to travel in our electric cruiser Tesla's Revenge, we'll be doing more brewing, lots more elaborate cooking, and I'll have two new novels (Zarabeth's World and the sequel to my novel The Ganymeade Protocol --which people have been bugging me to do-- titled The Flood Tarot) out and a poetry compilation of the real and virtual worlds called called Virtually Poetic (I'm editing that one) featuring real world poets and poets from the Second Life virtual environment.
I've got the sequel to this coming out in 2019, so you should probably pick up a copy and catch up.
We've noticed of late a huge amount of interest in things like our diy composting toilet (with diy urine diverter) and the electric paddlewheel drive.  I promise we'll be putting up more details, designs, upgrades, updates, warnings, and ideas about those in the coming weeks--I feel like we're on a roll with that--as well as all sorts of other useful and interesting things.  I just wanted to say thanks so much for all of you who have joined us in this trip.  Your comments are always appreciated, or you can reach us at Mungo@thefloatingempire.com.

Stay tuned,
More to come

my mouf hurtz

M

Lordie, the man is a wimp.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Notes on DIY Urine Diverter

This thing is surprisingly simple and effective.
Having lived with our DIY Urine Diverter in our DIY Composting Toilet for near on a year now, I thought it might be a good time to address the "what worked" and "what didn't" of the thing.  For the initial posts on construction, you can go have a look here.

In general, the thing has worked really well, and with very few problems.  It extends to nearly two weeks the time between needing to empty the solid waste from the toilet, and makes that job less arduous because the mass is far lighter without being chocked full of pee.   Not having liquid pooling in the compost bucket means far less chance of insects or odor.  We use a spray bottle with a weak bleach solution and spray the diverter after every couple of uses, which keeps the smell virtually nonexistent, and the bottle (a disused 1 1/2 gallon cat litter container) is far simpler to empty than dumping the entire composting bucket, I can tell you.

There, however, a few things that we might have done differently (and which we will do differently in subsequent versions) that we thought we'd impart.

First and foremost, we used 1/2" (about 13 mm) tubing for the drain.  The interior diameter of this hose is only about 3/8"  (about 9.5mm), which is fine for drainage.  From the beginning, however, we've used mostly wood chips and wood stove pellets for mass in the composter, and dropping even a single pellet into the diverter can plug the thing (happens about twice a month)  necessitating using a piece of wire or something to dislodge it.  Not a deal breaker, certainly, but irritating.  In future iterations, we'll endeavor to use a wider diameter tube, which should solve that instantly.

Since this was a retrofit to a composting toilet we'd already built, we had to get a bit creative with routing the tube to the bottle.  Because it looks a bit like a novelty drinking straw, it's rather easy to kink it when pulling or replacing the compost bucket.  In designing a new housing, we would opt for a much more straightforward (and shorter) route for the hose.

Since the initial install, we've had to play a bit with both the height and the depth of the diverter to keep it from hitting your bum on the toilet.  This was pretty easy, and involved screwing the thing in place half an inch lower and using a pocket knife to cut the curve of the top of the diverter a bit more deeply to keep it out of the way.  Neither affected the efficacy of the unit.

By the way, rotating the compost buckets is a plus.  Even with a liner, the plastic still manages to pick up some stink (though it isn't evident until you go to dump them). Being able to leave one out to air while the other is in use keeps that down .  I'm curious if a stainless steel bucket might be more resistant to retaining odor.

When choosing your diverter bottle, virtually anything will work, but as unattractive as it may be, I'd strongly recommend getting one in which you can easily see the liquid level.  Humans produce a surprising amount of pee, and though we've only overtopped it once, it wasn't a pleasant experience cleaning it up.  There are a bunch of other fixes for this, including possibly sealing the hose into the bottle while providing an air vent of some kind, but the simplest is just to be able to see just how much of the smelly amber stuff with which you're dealing so you can empty it in a timely fashion.

Lastly, note that, if you're in a non-mobile situation, routing the urine hose permanently into a dry well or into a garden or flower bed (urine being a major source of nitrogen) can mean you NEVER have to empty the thing and your flowers or lawn can reap the benefits.

All in all, I'm really happy we built the thing and rather wish we'd done so sooner.

Hiking at Marshy Point Nature Center on a sunny December day.
The late fall has been as erratic as the rest of the year here on the Chesapeake.  Two days ago it was sunny and 60 degrees F.  Today, it's barely above freezing.  Still, we did get in a lovely hike at one of our favorite places here (Marshy Point Nature Center) and managed to finish getting our stuff into the storage space.  Now we've got a couple of chilly days, suitable for finishing the first draft of the novel at which I've been working.  Close now. 

Fortunately, the solution to chilly feet is ALWAYS a well padded ship's cat.
So it's a couple of days of writing and artwork, and then maybe we can re-address the electric drive controller.

Stay Tuned.

M



Thursday, November 15, 2018

AAAAAANNNNNDDDDD Life gets in the way....

No, we haven't forgotten about you.  We've had to do a bit of necessary repair work on our cockpit enclosure (winter coming on) and have had to move our storage from the Marina building basement to a private storage facility further ashore (they're doing some renovations and we're kinda in the way). 

The wheel is in place, at the proper depth, and wired in.
Last week, we got the support lines replaced with chain and rerouted our wiring to connect the motor.  We booted up the sysem, turned the rheostat and, low and behold it turned.  It turned both forward and back.  We were ecstatic. . . .

. . .or were until the NEW motor controller--from the same company--went *pop* fizzzzzzz and quit. 

I checked the motor load and our wiring, and that doesn't appear to be the problem.  I just think the stats provided with these cheap Chinese controllers really don't match their capabilities.  So we're in process of getting and installing a more robust unit.  As soon as the current ice storm is over, we'll give it a go and give you a full report.

Winter finally caught up with us today:  snow and ice and rain.  We were bright enough to do our shopping yesterday so we have a day hunkered down in the boat, drinking tea, doing artwork, writing, and in general, having a quiet day of it. 

In coming days we'll be testing the new motor controller, installing an electric water pump for the galley (finally giving up on these crappy marine galley pumps....they either seem to be utter plastic junk or way more than we can afford), and doing a review on our flexoglass wheelhouse enclosure at a year of use, wind, and sun exposure, so stay tuned.

More very shortly.

Brrrrrr

M

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Electric Motor Install: Part IV: In the Water

....and if you haven't figured it out yet, these headings don't really mean a whole lot.

Yesterday we removed the Kayak that was supporting the wheel--which took a bit of finagling--and lowered it into the water for the first time. 

Mercifully, it hits the water evenly and at the right depth
Of primary concern was the depth of the buckets at their lowest position.  Ideally, they should be about 2" below the water surface.  If we were far off that, we'd have to remove and reposition where the wheel was attached to the stern.

Happily, once we got it off of flotation and let it down, the bottom bucket was almost EXACTLY 2" below the surface. 

Occasionally, I win one.

So today we'll get chain cut and make the supports permanent (at present it's hanging from the blue lines you see above).  We'll wire up the motor and see if she works properly.  Look for a test on the water today or tomorrow if that goes well.

Wish us luck.

More Shortly

M

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Electric Motor Installation Part: the third

FINALLY a fortuitous conjunction of tides, weather, help, and sunshine made it possible for us to get the wheel in place.

These chain supports will support the aft end of the wheel frame and will allow for adjustment.
Here's the stern, cleared and ready for the wheel.  The wiring is leading out the old engine exhaust tube on the Starboard side.
we dropped the wheel off the dock and onto our Intex kayak, which let us line it up with the old mounting holes that had been the outboard mount.  The thing is now firmly connected to the stern.

here's a shot from Port, showing the kayak step on the side of the wheel.  The aft lines supporting eh back of the wheel frame will be replaced with chain as soon as we're sure of the lengths.
With help from a nice slipmate, we rolled the wheel off the dock onto our Intex Kayak, which let us get is lined up with the stern far more easily than what I'd originally planned (Thanks Gail), snugged it over, and got it lag bolted in place. 

Tomorrow, of course, they're predicting rain, but when that clears, we'll pull out the kayak, set the depth for the wheel, hook up the wiring, and try the thing out.

Wish us luck.

We actually have gotten rather a lot done while waiting on weather and tides.  We made a lovely batch of Perry (think hard cider, but from pears), and did a lot of resetting of lines to make room for the wheel.

We bottled the Perry on Halloween night.  Initial tastes are promising, I can tell you.
We spent Samhain evening with friends, toasting the Pagan New Year.  Hope it's a much better one for all of us.

Happy Samhain!
Oh, by the way, we both voted:

Go do this
You should really go do that.  Really.  It's important.

More shortly,

M

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Electric Motor Install 3.somethingsomethingsomething

Finally a nice day and we managed to get some work done in getting the wheel ready to mount.
Everything you see that isn't red (yet) is carbon steel and has to be painted.

We used the nice weather to do the last of the touch up painting and to get some rust preventative paint (which mercifully matches the wheel) on all the steel parts that aren't stainless, those being the driveshaft, flanges, and pillow blocks.

We also got the motor mounted.  Here it is covered with plastic while we finish painting.

Here you can see the pillow block bearing, driveshaft, and connecting sleeve all painted.

The beast is now ready to install.
So today I'll install two strong eye-bolts to the wheelhouse frame for the support chains (we'll start with line until we're sure of the length) and then, hopefully (tide and wind cooperating) we'll get this puppy on and working over the weekend.

Wish us luck.

More shortly.....one hopes.

M

Monday, October 15, 2018

Of composting toilets and rain

No, we haven't forgotten about you.

We're still sitting here halfway through the paddlewheel installation, but every day this week it's either been raining, thinking about raining, threatening raining, just having rained, or too windy to get anything done.  Hopefully, after today, we'll have five or six days of decent weather and can make some progress.
Magellan is REALLY bored with all this rain.

It's life on a boat.  You deal with nature.  It's part of what we love about it, but it can get in the way sometimes.

In that regard:

I've noticed of late a LOT of interest in the Composting Toilet/Urine Diverter/Toilet build info posts.  I mean, rather a lot.  Would you guys be interested if we put together a little Ebook combining all the information we've learned from the start of the original Floating Empire on composting toilets and their care and . . .um. . .feeding?  We'd probably stick in on kindle or somesuchwhat for download.

Let me know in the comments if its a go.

More shortly, I promise.

M

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Electric Motor Install 2. i forget

So, rather racing to get a bit ahead of hurricane-induced rainstorms and wind (shouldn't be too bad here, but we will get wet Thursday) we did manage to get the frame and the wheel mated and all the keys in their respective keyways.

Port side, with the platform for accessing the kayak.

Starboard side.  Motor mounts at center.
I have to admit, I was really pleased.  Gail and I picked up the wheel and frame and spun the wheel.  It just kept going and going.  So the bearings are good and we've obviously got them aligned properly with the shaft.

So tomorrow will likely be a waste. Friday we'll still have some winds but it's likely the rain will be done and we can do the last of our touchup painting, then, hopefully with some help, we'll try to get her on Saturday or Sunday.

If you're in the path of Michael, stay safe.  It's a big storm.

More shortly

M

Monday, October 8, 2018

Electric Motor Install Pt. 2.3.4

Okay, due to some really unpredictable weather, some minor health issues (okay, we broke a pair of glasses), and some general ennui, we've not exactly been surging ahead, but we have made some real progress in the installation of the wheel.

Okay, so I'm never happy with how fast these things go.....or realistic about how fast they CAN go.



Getting the driveshaft keyways aligned is a bit tricky.
We got the drive shaft in to align the flanges that connect it to the wheel.  It's a bit tricky as the keyways in the flanges and the keyway in the drive shaft all have to align, but we got it to work.  Hopefully when we go to put it all back together, I can do this without a sledgehammer.  FYI the driveshaft and flanges, like the motor shaft, are 7/8" steel with a 1/8" keyway.

The frame assembled and laid out with the driveshaft and pillow blocks.
We got the frame for the wheel assembled and fitted the pillow blocks and shaft to it.  You can see, it's not symmetrical.  The motor hangs off the starboard side of it (to your left in this picture.)  The larger framed space on the right will be a sort of swim platform to help get on and off the kayak.  It also will help counterbalance the weight of the motor.

Today, if the rain holds off, we'll get a bit of the last bits of painting done and get the whole thing assembled, looking for an installation tomorrow or the next day.

Weather and ennui permitting.

Stay Tuned.

M

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Electric Motor Install, Pt II, the Wheel

So yesterday we completed the paddlewheel (the test one, anyway).  The wheel is 3.5 feet in diameter and has six two foot buckets (paddles). 

Cutting the sides of the wheel.
The lumber bill at the moment looks like this:  One sheet of 3/4" exterior plywood, three 1" x 8" x 8' clear boards for the buckets, 3 treated 2" x 4" x 8's for the frame, and a piece of 2" x 2" x 8' for the blocks to support the buckets.

No, this is tragically not a lost Calder sculpture.  It's the blocks that will support the buckets (paddles)
Multiple coats of a good exterior paint starts the paint process.
aaaaaaand paint all over the damn place.
laying out a hexigon to align the buckets. 
So we used the quasi reliable radius method to lay out six equidistant points on each side rim and then struck a line connecting them to be able to mount the bucket supports evenly.

Blocks in place.  Note that each side must have the blocks on the opposite side of their alignment marks than the other.  I got paranoid about this, checked it five or six times, STILL got it wrong and had to remove and replace the blocks.  Take care.
Here is the beast assembled:


So today we will fit the drive shaft to the assembled wheel and begin assembling the frame that supports it.

Stay Tuned.

M

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Keeping it Together

So, I've a lot of pictures and text and so forth on the new paddlewheel construction, which I'll post in a day or so, but--not at all based on anything I saw on the docks yesterday, mind you--this has been on my mind.

So, after thinking about this a bit, watching my slipmates, especially the newbies, deal with their boats and the water, I thought I would pass this along. Here are six, potentially disasterous things you can easily avoid on the water. Take them to heart and you'll be a lot less frustrated, I promise you.

First: The “Three Point Rule” is paramount. Whenever moving on, or getting off or on the boat, keep three points of contact at all times: two feet and a hand, two hands and a foot. . . avoid if at all possible stepping off the boat with both hands full. It's a formula for a fall. Boat decks can be slippery. Boats move, often suddenly and unexpectedly. Make sure you're ready and capable of coping with that if it happens.

Second: This is a boat, not a baseball field. Don't toss things unless there's no other option. In my time living aboard I've seen keys tossed from boat to dock (they missed, prompting an expensive locksmith visit and the even more expensive replacement of a wireless car key set), along with cell phones (they smashed) and a whole host of caps, floats, plates, tools, and assorted detritus, all of which either currently resides on the bottom below the docks or floated off downstream. HAND things off, and insist on the recipient saying “thank you” (an old Boy Scout trick) acknowledging they've got control of the item before you let go.

And in that regard: If you've got your cell phone, keys, etc. in your pocket or in your bag, you are unlikely to drop them off the dock. Wait until you hit dry land before you just HAVE to begin texting aunt Edna. I've seen some amazing juggling acts with keys and phones as people whip them out on the dock only to lose control of them.

Third: TURN OFF YOUR DOCK WATER WHEN YOU LEAVE!. I know of three boats now that sank, not because of leaks, but because the fresh water line from the dock was left on and a fitting broke aboard, filling the boat with water.

Fourth: Never, EVER wind a line around your hand when you're pulling it. You won't be able to let go quickly if you need to. I've seen hands smashed betwixt boat and dock because they were pulled down by the line they were holding and couldn't let go.  I actually learned this one working for years in the theatre, working in what's called a "hemp loft" stage. . . .ropes and sandbags.  I've seen more than one stagehand literally jerked off the ground because they couldn't let go of a line connected to waaaaaay too much counterweight.

Fifth: It's a boat. You're outside a lot. If you were camping, you'd wear sun block, bug spray, hats, sunglasses. . .all things to protect yourself from the elements. You need to do that on board. Reflection off the water can blast you with sunlight you aren't aware you're getting. Wind and salt can sap you of hydration, heat can do likewise. Pay attention to your body and what your surroundings are doing to it.

And Lastly: It's a boat. I know it doesn't happen often, but you can sink, you can fall overboard, hit your head, and drown. The ocean demands respect, and you forget that at your peril. Pay attention and you'll have a lovely time. Fail to and you may get an emergency room visit. . . .if you're lucky.

Nuff said.

M

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Electric Motor install Pt. 1.7.4.Grrrrrr

The haul and hang.

So on a rare (lately anyway) sunlit day and in our right minds and everything we loosed Tesla's Revenge from the docks and the marina used the bum boat to take her to the lift well.  Thanks to Florence, we had LOTS of water in which to float.

On pulling the boat out of the water, there was, indeed, quite a bit of growth on the prop and propshaft, which we promptly removed.  Then we turned the prop by hand, and low and behold, it turned!
There wasn't TOO much growth on the hull.....honest


But what was that weird noise?  There was a bit of grinding--expected that with the cutlass bearing out of the water--but there was also this bizarre ping-ing noise, like a spring or something being plucked.

So we got out the ladder and I climbed up into the boat and then down into the all-too-familiar depths of the motor space.

Did I mention at any point that electric motors are torque-y as hell?  I mean, most gas motors hit their torque peak around 1500 rpm, but an electric. . . . an electric hits it essentially at 0rpm.

So when I crawled under I realized that the reason that the motor had seemed labored was that it was, indeed, turning the propshaft even with the zebra mussel and barnacle growth on it.  It was also turning the stuffing box, the stuffing box bellows, and all the clamps:  the whole damn assembly had been rotating.  The "ping" sounds I had been hearing was from the loose ends of the hose clamps going round and round.  It was a wonder we weren't taking on water apace.

On further examination we realized that a former owner had shortened the drive shaft by several inches to facilitate mounting a different motor and transmission.  That unfortunately left too little room to mount the pillow block the system really needs to be in alignment.

So we put the thing back together, and got back in the water.

Aaaaaaand we're back to square one.

So, after considering the costs of what we would need to do to make this work with the existing drive, we've decided to go back to plan A).  To build the sternwheel we originally wanted to built.  I currently have all the parts, bearings, and fittings, and will have the wood at the end of this week.

Wish us luck.

more very shortly.

M

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Electric Motor Install part I.5

Well, just to give you guys a little update, here's what's happening with the install on our electric drive system. 

4.7 KW motor with coupling adapter
So our new motor mount, the motor, and the coupling adapters went in with a lot less grief than I'd expected.  We loosened the packing nut on the drive shaft as per youtube, hooked up the wiring, and fired the thing up. . . .low and behold, it worked!  It turned beautifully. . . .for about 12 seconds.  Then something in the motor controller fried and that was it. 

sigh....

So we ordered a new one, waited till it showed up, installed the thing, and tried again. 

It worked as well.  But we noticed that the turning of the prop shaft was somewhat. . .um. . labored, and that the new unit was heating up rather quickly.  I crawled back under the cockpit and tried to turn the shaft and it took all my effort to be able to move it at all.

Not the idea, folks.

I re-loosened the packing nut. . .rather more than I was comfortable with.  Same result.

So something is binding the propshaft, which leaves us basically four options:  1) it's out of alignment.  Possible, but having messed with it, nothing I did seemed to help it turn better.  2) The packing gland is still too tight, which is also possible, but I'm leery of backing it off any more as the water flow into the boat is about as much as I'm comfortable with.  3)  We've been in the water, not moving, for a year now.  This area has a lot of Zebra mussels.  It's possible we've just got a lot of growth on the propshaft, cutlass bearing, and in the prop shaft log that are inhibiting movment.  or 4) the prop shaft is bent.

Okay, so I thought the best way to eliminate #3 would be to go down and look, so I found my mask and went into the water to see what the situation might be.

The situation was dark.  No, I mean that literally:  our hull is black, we've a lot of duckweed growing around the slips in the marina, and since it's been raining, there's a lot of crap in the water.  I couldn't see a damn thing.

Ah, well. . . .

So, next week we're doing a haul and hang to see what the prop looks like, pulling the boat over to the well and putting it up on a sling so we can work on it out of the water for a few hours.  That should tell us quite a bit.

Stay tuned

M

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Hurricane Florence

Be careful out there.




We are, happily, well north of where this thing is supposed to hit, but please, PLEASE if you're in it's path don't get all macho on us an decide to "stick it out".  If you'll note, this thing is likely to slow down when it hits the coast and to pound NC/SC's coastlines for a full THREE DAYS.  Either sail out of it's way, pull your vessel, or go get a hotel room.  Either way, be safe.

Feel free when this is over and we see what has happened to the barrier islands to send a poisoned pen letter to those NC legislators who, in 2012 made it literally illegal to consider this kind of thing in zoning and planning because it "got in the way of development".  Bah.

Be safe.

M

Monday, September 10, 2018

Dining Aboard


This happens all the time: someone takes one look at our boat and pipes up “Guess you guys eat out a lot, huh?”

um, not really.

For the record, we rarely eat out. We're former restauranteurs, and we both love to cook. We cook a lot, and elaborately, and we literally NEVER go for fast food. Why would we? The food we make is so much better (and, of course, healthier and more interesting) than anything any drive-through could offer.
A small galley doesn't mean we cant get interesting.  These are stuffed baby eggplants with a Northern Indian spicing.

The misconceptions about cooking aboard continue to amaze me.

The Galley of Tesla's Revenge has a single burner propane stove. We have a small freezer, a cooler, a small smoker that we use sometimes up on shore, and not a lot of storage space for foodstuffs. Yet, for all that, we manage to crank out of plethora of soups, stews, exotic pot dishes, frittatas. . . a whole range of healthy and interesting dishes despite—and sometimes because of—the limitations. We roast our own coffee. We make our own butter, brew our own Ciders and Ginger beers. We do more in house—and easily and more economically—than most folks with vast kitchens would dream of doing.
Keep your cooking space uncluttered and your tools handy.

So here, gentle reader, are our suggestions of how to make the most of a small galley. As a note, this applies as well to your camper, apartment, or dorm room, just sayin'.

First of all, let go of the idea that you have to do long term menu planning. The lack storage means—rather happily—that you'll be doing a lot of “market shopping,” that is to say, buying what you need for the next few meals, driven by what is local and in season. All that makes for a healthier, tastier diet, and a greater local knowledge of the area in which you're docked. Introduce yourself to your local butcher, your fishmonger, your local farmstand. As a Livaboard, you have a built in interesting story, and folks are generally happy to be part of that. Is there food growing wild near your moorage? We've found crab apples and raspberries and mulberries, dandelion and day lily (not to mention fish and crab, but that's another story entirely) growing happily for the taking near the very heart of the marina. Build your meals around what you find, and let the ingredients shine, adding to them stable staples that you CAN afford the space to store: pastas, grains, nuts, and the like. We don't have a lot of foodstuffs in stowage, We DO have a ton of spices, herbs, sauces, flavorings, and we make liberal use of them.
You'd be amazed what  you can do aboard.  This is a hard cider in the making, made from foraged crab apples.  It was amazing.

Do your prep up front for as many of the dishes as possible so you don't get in your own way. Take the time to think through the process of preparing the meal. What will take the longest to cook? What can sit for a bit and what has to be served right off the burner? What can be brought up to temperature and left aside to continue to cook on it's own (residual heat is your friend). What can be cooked in the same pot, at the same time? It's like a puzzle, like the kind of reverse engineering you have to do when blacksmithing or doing ceramics, and it really rather adds to the enjoyment of preparation.
Compact, versatile tools like stick blenders can stand in for a host of single use kitchen appliances.

In that regard, think of meal components that can be rolled into other meals. Cooking country ribs? Get enough to cook an extra that can be part of a frittata or salad the next day. Your sauteed veggies for lunch can be the basis of a stew for dinner. Think in terms of components rather than meals and menus.
Spectacular food is just a matter of being willing to experiment. . . .that and a good wine merchant.

Don't crowd your galley with a lot of single-use gadgets. Buy good knives, good pots and pans, and make them work (Almost all our cookware is cast iron. It holds heat well and lasts forever, despite the weight). Some compact appliances (I'm a big fan of stick blenders) can do the work of several single use kitchen toys. If you're not using it, get rid of it and use the space for more spices, dried fruits, or another bottle of really good wine. Set up the work flow with the galley sink and your stove and work surfaces so it's comfortable and efficient and so you're not having to do gymnastics to get past one another just to make lunch. It's amusing to watch, granted, and can make for some fun Youtube videos, but after a while saying “excuse me” every six seconds begins to pall. Set up your space so you can work largely from a single position and you'll be a lot happier.

Also get to know some of your slipmates. Sharing dishes in a potluck can make for some great meals, some great friends, and a lot less effort and expense on everyone's part.

And, finally, remember, you objective is your own enjoyment. Food is social, food is entertainment, food can be history and culture and wonderfully reckless experimentation. Let it happen.


More shortly
M

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Setting up a Q and A

Well, for reasons known only to the ISP, our bandwidth this AM is absurdly slow, so I thought a bit of a text update might be do-able if a lot of photos might now.

We're stalled for the moment on the motor install waiting on a part, but as soon as that shows up we'll be doing tests on the system and taking some short trips and I promise to give you full details.

In the meanwhile, I've had a lot of questions lately, especially on solar and composting toilet systems, so we thought we'd put out a call if there was anything you fine folks wanted to know that we haven't addressed.

So please leave your questions in the comments below and we'll port them into a new Q and A post in a few days.  All post will be anonymous, so feel free to ask away.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

New stuff over at Life, Art, Water, btw.

M

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Electric Motor Install, part I

Okay, so this is a bit of a tease.  This motor install is going to take us several days and I'll be updating the blog here as it goes in.

To recap, we're putting a 4.7KW electric motor in the space formerly occupied by an Atomic 4 gas motor.  The motors are of equiv. horsepower (about 12) and drive the propshaft through a stuffingbox.  (If these are new terms to you, believe me, you'll see).

Our good friend Rich welded a frame for us to be able to mount the motor on the original bunks that held the gas engine (which was, of course, massively larger and heavier), and, at the moment, we're tweaking that to make sure the motor will align with with propshaft.

Here's the frame with the motor affixed. Total weight is probably around 50 lbs. You can see how wide the space occupied by the original motor was.
Anyway, stay tuned.  We hope to have this in, up, and working over the next few days.

M

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Things we've successfully used in a composting toilet.

Since someone asked, here are the things we've successfully used as biomass in our composting toilet setup:

1) Wood shavings.  A slip mate gifted us with like eight garbage bags of em after doing some dock work and we used them all winter.  They work well, but are somewhat messy.  Avoid stuff from treated lumber.

2)  Peat Moss.  This works beautifully, comes in huge compressed bricks, and, in general suits the composting process well.  It is also damn messy.  It's a fine brown powder that finds its way everywhere in the boat.  I'd use it if I had few other choices, as it does work, but it can be a pain.

3)  Wood Stove Pellets.

Yep, these guys.
Wood stove pellets in the US are primarily compressed sawdust.  They are compact, store well, and neat to use and, in general, are our fave for the composting toilet.  At something like $5 a bag, they're also pretty cheap.  Try for the ones that don't look like they're oiled or coated.  Broken bags are fine (and dirt cheap) but make sure the stuff isn't damp or you'll find your head abruptly starts smelling.

4) "Natural" cat litter.  AKA  Wood stove pellets.  Same thing generally in a smaller, more expensive bag, but available all summer, which wood stove fuel generally isn't.  Please note:  You can NOT use regular, clay-based cat litter.  It turns into cement and will not compost.

5)  Wood smoker pellets:  AKA Wood stove pellets.  These things are used in automatic meat smokers and are identical to the ones used for heating except these are "food grade."  They work fine and are available all summer and in all climes, but at around $16 a bag, they're pricey.

6)  Sawdust.  Yep, messy, but works fine.

7) Pet bedding:  AKA wood chips.  See #1.

8)  Crushed, dried leaves.  Works in a pinch.  Tends to be a bit high in tannins for the composting process, but works.

Things we have not tried :

Coir (coconut fiber).  I've seen it recommended.  Available in some garden centers in compressed bricks.

Shredded cellulose (wood, paper, etc).  Should work.  Never tried it.

So we're waiting anxiously for our motor mount to get welded so we can get it in and get on the water.  We've gotten a bunch of small stuff done:  installed the transducer for the depth finder, built a small table for the cockpit and, in general, tried to tidy stuff up and make ready to get this beast mobile.

Can't wait.

More shortly.

M

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A quick update

Got the speed controller in today.  All the wiring is now in place and all we have to do is get in the motor mount and we should be good.

Magellan just wishes we would stop moving stuff around.  It's cutting into his nap time.
In addition, we finally got the name and home port on the stern.  It feels oddly fulfilled.

She has a name!


Photos shortly.  Back at it.

M

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Rather Good Day

You know, today went rather well.  Today dawned beautiful and rather cooler than the last few days.  The new power controller for the motor turned up today.  Disgusted with the thing WildernessEV sent us, I just went ahead and ordered one of these Chinese jobs for light electric vehicles.
What the hell?  We gave it a shot.
The unit supposedly will handle 100A at 48 volts  (they say 5000 watts).  When it arrived I was rather surprised how light it was, but then realized that the old unit was one massive aluminum heat sink and this little guy has it's own fan.

Anyway, we hooked it up for a test, and behold, it worked fabulously. Wonderful control of the motor and no over heating, even using paltry 16 Ga. wires for the test.

And, yes, I know the wires are too small.  This was a test to see if it worked, and it did.
Forward, stop, and back.  It all functioned beautifully.  We celebrated by taking a lovely afternoon kayak sortie and by making a great meal:  grilled country ribs with fresh local tomatoes and corn.

All in all, today worked.  Tomorrow, I'll go get some heavier wire for the installation and the iron for the motor mount.

So close I can taste it.

more shortly

M

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Wiring Hell

Ugh.  Okay, so this has been a week of progress and setbacks and frustrations and triumphs and not nearly enough alcohol.  Let me say this up front:  If you were ever considering it (and I know I've spoken kindly of them in a couple posts a few months ago) I don't recommend you do business with WildernessEV.  We purchased most of the drive components from them, and are regretting it now.  With the exception of some wire connectors and the motor itself (which was shipped from the factory directly), everything we received from them was a piece of utter crap.  The motor controller, on careful examination, had been used and mounted before, and when we wired it up, it simply wouldn't power up.  The throttle control had been wired with used speaker wire--no, I'm not kidding--and we never received the reversing contactor for which we paid, despite assurances from them.  Now they won't answer emails or phone calls.
See this lovely motor?  It's the only goddam thing they sent me that worked.

Live and learn.  There's several hundred dollars I'll never see again.

So I bit the bullet and ordered a new motor controller and while we were waiting I figured I would go ahead and pull and mount the lug connectors on the 4ga power cables we need to power the motor.  So right in the middle of doing that, there was a pop and a fizz and the smell of something burning and we suddenly didn't have a working 12 V system.

Sigh.
Place is a wreck while we drag new wiring.

This boat has been rewired something like three times, and each time the former owner LEFT ALL THE FREAKING WIRES IN PLACE FROM THE PREVIOUS WIRING JOB.  As a result, in places there are wrist-thick bundles of wire.  Somewhere in there is one you need.  Get the picture?

I finally got pissed off, and we dragged half of our stuff out of the lazarettes and storage cubbies, ripped out lots of dead wire, and ran new, color coded cables for our 12v system.  In the midst of that we discovered that the step down transformer that drops our 48V system to 12 volts for interior lighting, navigation, etc., was the WRONG UNIT, which is why it fried.

Sigh again.

So I've spent the last three sweaty days crawling through bulkheads and under cabinets running new wire.  My knuckles look like I've been prizefighting and everything else hurts, but now we have working lights, working running lights, a working radio and depth finder, some lovely 12V and USB outlets in the cockpit, and a wiring system that can be comprehended in an emergency.
Finally got the Chartplotter mounted.

Ah well.

There is some good news.  The new motor controller arrives tomorrow, and we got the motor mounts (big chunky neoprene things intended for an air conditioner compressor) yesterday.  We'll be running a test of the motor and controller and then, the gods of electronics cooperating, we'll be doing the install of the motor and it's mount, for which I'll supply full details and pictures.

Today, since stuff was still in shipment, we took the day off.  We went for about three or four miles of kayak ride down the Middle River (visiting our old shantyboat Floating Empire in the process, but I'll save that for another day), and tonight I'll be grilling some bison burgers with fresh local corn from Zahradka's farm and a tomato salad and a nice red wine.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves why we do this.
The river at nightfall.

More shortly,
and more stuff over at Life, Art, Water

M